By Yemi Olus

In a few days, the rest of the continent will converge at the Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba, Delta State, for the long-awaited African Senior Athletics Championships. Fans and spectators will definitely be treated to brilliant performances on the Track and Field, considering that some of the athletes expected to headline the championships, are among the best in the world.

Nigeria’s Glory Onome Nathaniel (R) hands the baton over to Nigeria’s Emerald Egwim (2L) as Germany’s Nadine Gonska (2R) hands off to Germany’s Svea Kohrbruck (L) in the heats of the women’s 4x400m relay athletics event at the 2017 IAAF World Championships at the London Stadium in London on August 12, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV

Countries like Kenya and South Africa have registered their ‘A’ squad for the championships, and of course both countries will rekindle their age-long rivalry with Nigeria, with each country aiming to top the medals table at the end of the five-day competition.

South Africa has won three of the past five editions of the African Championships, topping the medals table at Addis Ababa 2008, Marrakech 2014 and Durban 2016. Kenya hosted and won the 2010 edition of the championships, while Nigeria dominated the 2012 African Championships held in Port Novo, Benin Republic.

As the host nation for Asaba 2018, Nigeria is presenting a team comprising of about 90 athletes led by Beijing 2008 Silver medallist and Moscow 2013 multiple medallist Blessing Okagbare and Divine Oduduru, who are both indigenes of Delta State. Pegging down an accurate figure of athletes representing Nigeria at the African Championships may pose a bit of a challenge because of developments that have trailed the release of the team list. The initial list had about 95 athletes, but about 20 names were then dropped without any explanation.

Nevertheless, the latest information suggests that athletes that were dropped have been re-called to the team. This is not the sort of controversy we should be courting so close to the championships, and my initial reaction to the news of athletes being dropped from the team was one of disbelief. Why would any well-meaning administrator(s) deprive their own athletes the opportunity of rubbing shoulders with their contemporaries from other parts of the continent at very minimal cost?

Nigeria isn’t going to incur a lot of expense trying to secure visas or return tickets for its large team since we are hosting the championships in the first place, so why try to rob your own athletes of an opportunity of a life time?  However, I am glad that the issue has been rectified, so that we can now face the daunting task of executing the highly anticipated championships without any hitches.

Our major rivals, Kenya and South Africa, last hosted the championships in 2010 and 2016 respectively, and won the championships on their home turf. As a patriotic Nigerian, I would love to predict that Nigeria will win the championships, but based on the facts on ground, I suspect that we will most likely finish 3rd on the medals table. We may win the highest number of medals, but I foresee South Africa and Kenya finishing with higher number of Gold medals.

South Africa for instance, will be coming with reigning Olympic and World Championships GOLD medallist in the 800m, Caster Semenya. Semenya will be going for the 400m, 800m, 1500m and 4x400m in Asaba. She proved an asset in the 4x400m for South Africa at Durban 2016 as her blistering anchor leg earned her team the GOLD medal ahead of Nigeria. Having won Commonwealth Games GOLD in the 800m and 1500m earlier this year, Semenya is likely to win more than one medal for her country.

Also included in the South African team are the continent’s Top 2 male Long Jumpers: African Record holder Luvo Manyonga and Ruswahl Samaai. They also have Africa’s best athletes in the following events: the 110m Hurdles, women’s 400m Hurdles, men’s Discus throw and women’s Javelin throw, not forgetting Akani Simbine who won the men’s 100m at the Commonwealth Games in April.

Kenya’s star-studded team comprises of World Record holder in the women’s 3000m Steeplechase Beatrice Chepkoech; reigning World Champions Conseslus Kipruto (3000m Steeplechase) and Elijah Manangoi (1500m); former World Champions Julius Yego (Javelin), Eunice Sum (800m) and Nicholas Bett (400m Hurdles), and current World Leaders Emmanuel Korir (800m), Timothy Cheruiyot (1500m) and Hellen Obiri (5000m).

Cote d’Ivoire may not be coming with a large team but they will be sure to contend for medals in the men and women’s 100m and 200m, while Botswana will be favoured to win GOLD in the 400m (men and women), leaving Nigeria with fewer medals to contest for, considering that the shorter sprints used to be regarded as our strong events. This time around however, we would have to search for medals in other events.

One of our strongest hopes going into the African Championships will be the women’s 100m Hurdles where Tobi Amusan will be in a good position to add the African Championships title to her Commonwealth Games GOLD.

Ese Brume is also expected to dominate the Long Jump and clinch her third consecutive title at the competition. Chukwuebuka Enekwechi who won Silver in the men’s Shot Put at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, can also fight for Gold, while Queen Obisesan can do same in the women’s Hammer throw. Wishing all Team Nigeria athletes the very best at the African Championships.

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